Gourmet Veggie Mama

Thanksgiving: Part II

Time for pies!

As far as I’m concerned, dessert is the main event on Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I suck at making pie crusts. I have tried and failed many times (in several different ways) to make lovely homemade pie crusts, to the point where I had basically just given up and decided to use frozen (gasp!). This year, I decided to tackle homemade pie crust again, though, and I’m happy to say that I mostly succeeded!*

* My one complete failure was puff pastry pie crust. I had read that you could collect scraps and roll them out to make a pie crust, so I tried it, but the dough was too warm and got all sticky. As a friend reminded me, the key to a good pie crust is cold!

My first attempt was a graham cracker crust — the real kind — for a pumpkin pie. As in, not mashed up graham crackers and butter, but dough for an actual graham cracker baked like a pie crust. It was awesome! The edge of the dough got a little (okay, a lot) burned, but I was able to salvage it my using a sharp knife to cut the burned edge off while it was still warm.

Emergency surgery.

The pie was great, and definitely my favorite pumpkin pie recipe ever. It was all totally from scratch, since the pumpkin puree came not for a can, but from an actual pumpkin — imagine that!

Pumpkin Pie with Graham Cracker Crust
Based on this recipe

For crust:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

For filling:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
6 whole 3-inch long cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
3 cardamom pods
3/4 cup crème fraîche
2 cups pumpkin purée**
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
dash ground cardamom
dash ground allspice
1 Tbsp brandy
3 eggs

Make crust:
In a large bowl, mix both kinds of flour, salt, and cinnamon. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add both sugars to the creamed butter and mix until well blended, and then mix in the honey. Add about half of the dry mixture to the butter mixture, and mix fully combined. Add the remaining dry mixture, scraping down the sides, and mix until fully incorporated.

Transfer the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and flatten it into a disk. Wrap tightly, and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour to firm up.

Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and unwrap it, keeping it on top of the sheet of plastic wrap. Flour the top of the dough and roll out with a well-floured rolling pin, adding flour as needed, using long, smooth strokes, until the dough is about 1/8-inch thick.

Invert your pie pan on top of the rolled-out dough and cut a circle about an inch wider than the pan. With the pie pan still upside down on top of the dough, carefully lift the dough and the pan using the bottom layer of plastic wrap and flip. Peel off the plastic and gently slide the dough into the pan. Press in at the corners as needed, and crimp the edges. If you have excess dough, simply form another ball and roll it out again to make another crust (or graham crackers!).

Preheat the oven to 350° and refrigerate the crust for 30 minutes. Prick the crust all over with a fork and bake for 5 to 10 minutes. Let it cool on a rack while you make the filling.

Make filling:
In a small saucepan, bring the cream and white sugar to a bare simmer. Crush the whole spices in a plastic bag or smash them with the flat side of a chef’s knife just to break them up a little bit. Add them to the cream mixture, remove from heat, and cover and set aside for about an hour.

Meanwhile, mix the pumpkin purée, brown sugar, vanilla, salt, eggs, and ground spices in a stand mixer or food processor. Once the cream is fully steeped, warm the mixture back up over medium heat and add the brandy. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into the stand mixer or food processor with the pumpkin mixture. Add the crème fraîche and mix well.

Raise the oven temperature to 425°. Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 15 minutes.*** Lower the oven temperature to 350° and bake for an additional 35 minutes. It should still jiggle a little in the center when it’s done, but it shouldn’t be liquidy. Remove and cool on a rack. Let it chill in the refrigerator for a few minutes before cutting.

** Yes, you can use canned, but I highly suggest making your own. It just tastes better! I just cut a “lid” into the top of the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and strings (like you’re carving a Jack-o-lantern, put the lid back on slightly crooked to allow for venting, and bake on a baking sheet at 400 for 45 minutes to an hour (or until you can easily pierce the outside with a fork). Cool, then scoop out the flesh and process through a food mill or food processor. Let the puree sit in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl for 30 minutes or so to get some of the liquid out, then use. If you have any left, it freezes really well for future use.

*** If you are smart, you will tent the edge with foil to avoid a burned crust like mine!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After that modest success, on Thanksgiving night, I manned up and decided to attempt a “real” pâte brisée pie crust using the Cooks’ Illustrated recipe, which was recommended by a friend. I meticulously followed the method and didn’t breathe easy until the pie came out of the oven, and it worked like a charm! It was even relatively pretty, and there were no burnt edges or anything.

I identified some things I had done wrong in the past (not using enough flour when rolling out the dough, using too many strokes to roll out the dough), and stumbled upon an awesome trick (from the pumpkin pie recipe above) to get the rolled-out dough into the pie plate — Press ‘n’ Seal! I just rolled the dough out on top of a sheet of Press ‘n’ Seal (the same one I used to wrap it up in the fridge), and then just inverted it into the pie plate and peeled the plastic off. So simple, and no broken or stretched crust. The Press ‘n’ Seal worked even better than normal plastic wrap, since it’s less sticky.

I used the crust for a new twist on an old favorite — pecan pie. I love pecans, but pecan pie has always been too sweet for me. Its syrupy flavor overpowers the pecans, and I usually just skip it. This was a different story, though. Eliminate corn syrup from the recipe, add some chocolate, and flavor it with bourbon, and we have a winner!

Bourbon-y chocolate-y goodness.

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie
Crust from Baking Illustrated with my modifications; filling recipe based on this one

For crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp vegetable shortening, chilled
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4-5 Tbsp ice water

For filling:
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup bourbon
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or use chocolate chips)
1/2 cup pecan halves

Make crust:
Process the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add the shortening and process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture and cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about 10 one-second pulses. Turn the mixture into a medium bowl.

Sprinkle 4 Tbsp of ice water over the mixture. With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix. Press down on the dough with the broad side of the spatula until the dough sticks together, adding up to 1 Tbsp more ice water if the dough will not come together. Flatten the dough into a 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour before rolling out.

Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and unwrap it, keeping it on top of the sheet of plastic wrap. Flour the top of the dough and roll out with a well-floured rolling pin, adding flour as needed, using long, smooth strokes, until the dough is about 1/8-inch thick.

Invert your pie pan on top of the rolled-out dough and cut a circle about an inch wider than the pan. With the pie pan still upside down on top of the dough, carefully lift the dough and the pan using the bottom layer of plastic wrap and flip. Peel off the plastic and gently slide the dough into the pan. Press in at the corners as needed, and crimp the edges. Refrigerate for about 40 minutes, and then freeze for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375. Remove the pan from the freezer, line with foil, and distribute pie weights (or pennies) across the bottom. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the dough looks dry. Remove the foil and pie weights and continue baking until light golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the crust and cool on a wire rack. Lower the oven temperature to 350.

Make filling:
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until foamy. Stir in the melted butter. Add both sugars, flour, vanilla, and bourbon and mix well.

Spread the chocolate in the bottom of the crust, then add the chopped pecans. Pour the egg mixture over and arrange the pecan halves on top.

Bake until golden and set, about 45 minutes. Cool for at least an hour before cutting.

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7 Thoughts on “Thanksgiving: Part II

  1. Have you tried the America’s Test Kitchen Vodka Pie Dough recipe? The vodka evaporates during cooking, so leaves no taste; but the extra liquid makes rolling and handling much easier (apparently). I haven’t tried it myself, but every other dessert I’ve tried out of their book has been a success.

    • I tried that one WAY back when, but it was a fail for me. I think I still worked the dough too much, because it shrunk up badly when I baked it. I do love America’s Test Kitchen, so I’m betting it was user error on my part!

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